Top 10 pipeline blowups, set­backs and sna­fus in H1 2017

As Big Pharma and the growing biotech sector shifted their R&D sights over the past decade — focusing more on game-changing drugs and shunning the me-too variety that don’t fare well with payers — the usual pitfalls, setbacks and snafus have grown more spectacular with each passing year. You have to break it down into 6-month allotments just to keep a handle on the consequences of major breakdowns.

This list, though, also raises questions about the role the FDA has come play in raising risks for patients in cancer studies. Two of my 10 drugs on the hit list are oncology drugs that were put on hold — briefly — only to get yanked again after more deaths hit the drug arm of the pivotal study. Is the FDA doing its job properly in evaluating the risks associated with experimental cancer drugs? Or has the rush to get new approvals caused regulators to lower safety standards too far?

The FDA has received considerable praise for the way it’s carved a short pathway for accelerated cancer drug approvals. So it’s no surprise that no one is even asking that question.

I’ve added a new category of a biopharma implosion: the self-inflicted pricing scandal. It did in one company on this list, and the same pitfall awaits others. And I’m also adding a line on how the company’s stock did year-to-date. The Dow Jones, offered in context, is up 9% from the beginning of this year.

The nasty surprises outlined below are another reminder of the big gambles every drug developer is engaged in. This isn’t a job for the weak of heart. And too much hubris is even worse.


1
Eli Lilly
Baricitinib goes from blockbuster contender to doghouse tenant in a sudden and devastating fall from grace

Based: Indianapolis, IN
$LLY:+3% YTD
CEO: David Ricks

The scoop: By all accounts, Eli Lilly’s NDA for its blockbuster contender baricitinib looked like a slam dunk. The pharma giant had highlighted solid efficacy data and a safety profile without setting off any alarms. So when the FDA’s rejection was announced in April, the news took everyone by surprise. It took awhile, but Lilly eventually revealed that evidence of blood clots in two of seven studies — Lilly is nothing if not completely thorough in its development work — forced regulators to throw the red flag. The delay on new safety data could now take three or four years to nail down, leaving Lilly looking at a very late comeback attempt after a new round of entries from its rivals. It’s a big decision, and an awful place to be in for new CEO Dave Ricks, who’s been simultaneously rejigging the pipeline. Lilly, though, has a habit of sticking with its late-stage drugs if there’s any chance of success. Lilly’s R&D group ran three failed late-stage studies on their Alzheimer’s drug solanezumab, and they still have clinical work underway on it. The pharma giant went through one of the worst dry spells in the industry, which forced a pledge on a string of new approvals. And recently they got handed a beating in a Phase III head-to-head between its new diabetes drug Trulicity and Novo’s semaglutide. The last thing Ricks needs now is a return to the old, bad days of R&D setbacks.


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Paul Hudson, Sanofi CEO (Getty Images)

Sanofi CEO Paul Hud­son has $23B burn­ing a hole in his pock­et. And here are some hints on how he plans to spend that

Sanofi has reaped $11.1 billion after selling off a big chunk of its Regeneron stock at $515 a share. And now everyone on the M&A side of the business is focused on how CEO Paul Hudson plans to spend it.

After getting stung in France for some awkward politicking — suggesting the US was in the front of the line for Sanofi’s vaccines given American financial support for their work, versus little help from European powers — Hudson now has the much more popular task of managing a major cash cache to pull off something in the order of a big bolt-on. Or two.

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The Advance Clinical leadership team: CEO Yvonne Lungershausen, Sandrien Louwaars - Director Business Development Operations, Gabriel Kremmidiotis - Chief Scientific Officer, Ben Edwards - Chief Strategy Officer

How Aus­tralia De­liv­ers Rapid Start-up and 43.5% Re­bate for Ear­ly Phase On­col­o­gy Tri­als

About Avance Clinical

Avance Clinical is an Australian owned Contract Research Organisation that has been providing high-quality clinical research services to the local and international drug development industry for 20 years. They specialise in working with biotech companies to execute Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials to deliver high-quality outcomes fit for global regulatory standards.

As oncology sponsors look internationally to speed-up trials after unprecedented COVID-19 suspensions and delays, Australia, which has led the world in minimizing the pandemic’s impact, stands out as an attractive destination for early phase trials. This in combination with the streamlined regulatory system and the financial benefits including a very favourable exchange rate and the R & D cash rebate makes Australia the perfect location for accelerating biotech clinical programs.

Pablo Legorreta, founder and CEO of Royalty Pharma AG, speaks at the annual Milken Institute Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California (Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Cap­i­tal­iz­ing Pablo: The world’s biggest drug roy­al­ty buy­er is go­ing pub­lic. And the low-key CEO di­vulges a few se­crets along the way

Pablo Legorreta is one of the most influential players in biopharma you likely never heard of.

Over the last 24 years, Legorreta’s Royalty Pharma group has become, by its own reckoning, the biggest buyer of drug royalties in the world. The CEO and founder has bought up a stake in a lengthy list of the world’s biggest drug franchises, spending $18 billion in the process — $2.2 billion last year alone. And he’s become one of the best-paid execs in the industry, reaping $28 million from the cash flow last year while reserving 20% of the cash flow, less expenses, for himself.

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Dan O'Day, Gilead CEO (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Gilead leas­es part­ner rights to TIG­IT, PD-1 in a $2B deal with Ar­cus. Now comes the hard part

Gilead CEO Dan O’Day has brokered his way to a PD-1 and lined up a front row seat in the TIGIT arena, inking a deal worth close to $2 billion to align the big biotech closely with Terry Rosen’s Arcus. And $375 million of that comes upfront, with cash for the buy-in plus equity, along with $400 million for R&D and $1.22 billion in reserve to cover opt-in payments and milestones..

Hotly rumored for weeks, the 2 players have formalized a 10-year alliance that starts with rights to the PD-1, zimberelimab. O’Day also has first dibs on TIGIT and 2 other leading programs, agreeing to an opt-in fee ranging from $200 million to $275 million on each. There’s $500 million in potential TIGIT milestones on US regulatory events — likely capped by an approval — if Gilead partners on it and the stars align on the data. And there’s another $150 million opt-in payments for the rest of the Arcus pipeline.

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Bryan Roberts, Venrock

Ven­rock sur­vey shows grow­ing recog­ni­tion of coro­n­avirus toll, wan­ing con­fi­dence in ar­rival of vac­cines and treat­ments

When Venrock partner Bryan Roberts went to check the results from their annual survey of healthcare leaders, what he found was an imprint of the pandemic’s slow arrival in America.

The venture firm had sent their form out to hundreds of insurance and health tech executives, investors, officials and academics on February 24 and gave them two weeks to fill it out. No Americans had died at that point but the coronavirus had become enough of a global crisis that they included two questions about the virus, including “Total U.S. deaths in 2020 from the novel coronavirus will be:”.

Roger Perlmutter, Merck R&D chief (YouTube)

UP­DAT­ED: Backed by BAR­DA, Mer­ck jumps in­to Covid-19: buy­ing out a vac­cine, part­ner­ing on an­oth­er and adding an­tivi­ral to the mix

Merck execs are making a triple play in a sudden leap into the R&D campaign against Covid-19. And they have more BARDA cash backing them up on the move.

Tuesday morning the pharma giant simultaneously announced plans to buy an Austrian biotech that has been working on a preclinical vaccine candidate, added a collaboration on another vaccine with the nonprofit IAVI and inked a deal with Ridgeback Biotherapeutics on an early-stage antiviral.

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David Hoey (Vaxxas)

In for the long vac­cine game, Mer­ck buys in­to patch de­liv­ery tech with pan­dem­ic po­ten­tial

When Merck dived into the R&D fray for a Covid-19 vaccine earlier this week, execs made it clear that they’re not necessarily looking to be first — with CEO Ken Frazier throwing cold water on the hotly-discussed 12- to 18-month timelines. But when it does emerge from behind, the pharma giant clearly expects to play a significant part.

Part of that will depend on next-generation delivery technology that reshapes the world’s imagination of a vaccine.

No­var­tis jumps in­to Covid-19 vac­cine hunt, as Big Phar­ma and big biotech com­mit to bil­lions of dos­es

After spending most of the pandemic on the sidelines, Novartis is offering its aid in the race to develop a Covid-19 vaccine.

AveXis, the Swiss pharma’s gene therapy subsidiary, has agreed to manufacture the vaccine being developed by Massachusetts Eye and Ear and Massachusetts General Hospital. The biotech will begin manufacturing this month, while the vaccine undergoes further preclinical testing. They’ve agreed to provide the vaccine for free for clinical trials beginning in the second half of 2020, but have not disclosed financials for after.

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De­nali un­veils new way of cross­ing blood brain bar­ri­er as the big neu­ro­science bet en­ters its clin­i­cal years

Five years ago, as much of pharma began leaving neuroscience, three big-name scientists from Genentech and some A-list investors, including ARCH and Flagship, made a $217 million bet that new genetic insights and a reliance on biomarkers could bring them success. They called it Denali Therapeutics.

Still, Denali faced the problem that neuroscience developers have faced for decades: How do you get a large molecule across the blood-brain barrier, a natural defense evolved precisely to keep them out? Enzyme replacement therapy, for instance, would be a great candidate to treat several neurological disorders, but enzymes can’t cross the barrier.